Cloud computing is evolving fast, and a “multi-cloud strategy” that uses two or more cloud services simultaneously is becoming the norm in the private sector. An estimated 84% to 93% of businesses are multi-cloud or officially plan to go multi-cloud, according to industry analyses. It’s about to become standard practice in the Department of Defense, as well. Pentagon leaders have replaced a plan to make Microsoft their agency-wide cloud services provider with a new Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) endeavor in which multiple private vendors will contribute their wares.
The Pentagon, like public- and private-sector entities the world over, aims to migrate its software and data systems to the cloud. And JWCC, an upcoming platform for DoD-wide cloud services, is how it will get there.
Last Friday, the Pentagon announced formal solicitations to four cloud-services providers to participate in JWCC: Google, Amazon, Oracle, and Microsoft. The Pentagon will make its final selections for JWCC contract bids by April 2022, and a Pentagon statement from last July suggests that even more companies could get consideration between now and then:
“The Department will immediately engage with industry and continue its market research to determine whether any other U.S.-based hyperscale CSPs can also meet the DoD’s requirements. If so, the Department will also negotiate with those companies,” the statement reads.
JWCC replaces the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) effort, which would have gone exclusively to Microsoft. The Pentagon scrapped JEDI in June after a lengthy legal battle with Amazon, who had accused Defense officials of playing favorites with Microsoft.
Defense leaders are taking a definitively big-tent approach with JWCC, contrasting with JEDI’s. The plan is a “multi-award, multi-vendor cloud solution,” according to a DoD press release. Whereas JEDI’s planners anticipated one cloud-services provider–namely, Microsoft–operating one monolithic cyberspace structure, JWCC will be a domain in which is multiple commercial clouds, run by a number of companies, work in tandem and play diverse roles.
“A warfighter carrying out a mission requires persistent access to information hosted by various cloud providers, in different environments, and at multiple classification levels,” reads a Pentagon strategy document issued earlier this year. “Mission owner and warfighter access to information must not be tethered to a specific cloud solution or data center.”
Many news commentaries have noted the prior controversy surrounding JEDI and concluded that Defense leaders are purposely inviting more providers to the platform to avoid giving rise to any new accusations of favoritism. That is a possibility.
But, as noted above, integrating the services of several cloud providers onto one platform is a common practice in many industries. There are good reasons why.
- System resilience. System crashes and system failures happen, and if everyone is using one sole platform by one sole provider, they could all be left in a lurch. Much better to have several providers, so even if one is having problems, the others can still carry on business as usual.
- More products and features. Amazon EC2, which enables users to launch multiple private servers, may be a very useful tool for one department. Another may find the high-bandwidth, private connection options of Oracle’s FastConnect better meets its needs. One sole cloud provider’s platform, now matter how good, will only have so much to offer. Better to opt for a multi-platform arrangement like JWCC, where users will have wider arrays of services and products and be able to pick and choose what will work best for them.
- More platform flexibility. If you have one platform, all your apps will be built for that one platform. Which will be a problem down the road if you ever want to change the apps. Whereas if other clouds with other platform specifications are available, you can more easily switch out your old apps for newer ones that will serve you better.
A multi-platform system is a better system for many private businesses, and it may well be a better one for the DoD. John Sherman, the Pentagon’s principal deputy chief information officer, suggested as much in a July DoD statement.
“The JWCC’s multi-cloud environment will serve our future in a way that JEDI’s single award, single cloud structure simply cannot do,” he said.
Defense officials no doubt want to avoid repeating the controversies that had dogged JEDI. Opening the process to more companies is a good move, in that case. But Defense officials are probably also recognizing that the job of running the U.S. defense sector’s enormous software capabilities in the cloud is too big for any one vendor, even a giant-sized one like Google or Amazon. The job of defending the United States is complex and diverse, and the U.S. armed forces need a complex and diverse cloud system that is up to the task. A big-tent, inclusive JWCC may prove to be such a system.